• Jazz, Vol. 2

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in WBN News & Events     Comments 9 comments

    (To any newcomers, you can catch up with our Jazz conversation by reading our discussion of the first section.)

    This week I’d like to (try to) rein it in a bit and allow you guys to steer the conversation. What stands out to you about this second section? Anything in particular you’d like to focus on? Any questions you’d like your fellow readers to answer?

    I have a few.


    Narration & Tense

    What do you guys think of the “that Violet” section, and how it moves from third-person to first-person and back again? (89-114, with breaks in between)

    On a related note, Joe’s section about how he “changes into new” seven times (121-135). Not only is this passage all dialogue, but note how Joe moves from speaking about Dorcas to speaking to her. Any thoughts about why this entire section is in dialogue? Is the narrator imagining this dialogue, as if it’s his/her idea of what Joe’s internal monologue would sound like? Or is Joe really speaking aloud? If so, to whom? And who is recording it?

    Here are a few passages that (maybe) drop some clues about the narrator(s), which we disccussed a bit last week:

    “Joe probably thinks that the song is about him. He’d like believing it. I know him so well” (119).

    Joe’s dialogue on 135 ends with “… it was more than a state of mind.” The next chapter begins, “Risky, I’d say, trying to figure out anybody’s state of mind. But worth the trouble if you’re like me–curious, inventive and well-informed” (137), and later reads, “it’s not hard to imagine what it must have been like,” and then “I don’t know how hard it was for a slave woman to leave …” (141).

    Is the identity of the narrator(s) any clearer here in Section 2 than it was in Section 1?

    We should pay special attention to two passages; the first is on 151 as we’re reading about Golden Gray: “That is what makes me worry about him,” and then at the end of the paragraph, “… and I don’t hate him much anymore.”

    The second–even more telling–is on 160 and into 161:

    “What was I thinking of? How could I have imagined him so poorly? […] I have been careless and stupid and it infuriates me to discover (again) how unreliable I am. […] I want to be the language that wishes him well.”


    Golden Gray

    We have two chapters devoted to this Golden Gray character (though only one for this section–poor planning on my part!). Why does Morrison spend so much time on this character/incident from decades ago? How much of this scene do you think is imagined by the narrator(s) and how much is reportage?

    Note how Golden Gray ties Violet and Joe together before they even meet. Golden Gray is True Belle’s charge, and True Belle is Violet’s grandmother. Golden Gray helps out (maybe saves the life of) Wild, who later that day gives birth to Joe, with Golden Gray looking on. And Golden Gray is the son of Hunters Hunter/Henry Lestroy/LeStory, who himself is a sort of father figure to Joe. How does Morrison avoid having these links seem forced? Are these links symbolic of something?

    Also note how Morrison uses “phaeton” several times in this section, and how the word can be used for both a carriage and a mythological character who was the “shining” son of the Sun God Helios. Hmm …



    Last week, Leah and Cathleen both chatted about Morrison’s poetic/lyrical style, and how her writing has specific beats and rhythms at times (like most music) and how at other times it seems more improvised (like jazz).

    A couple passages hopped out at me from this section, both regarding this musical style and the characters’ reactions to music itself.

    Style: Dorcas has her hand on Joe beneath the tablecloth at the club, “drumming out the rhythm on the inside of his thigh, his thigh, his thigh, thigh, thigh” (95); “Blues man. Black and bluesman. Blacktherefore blue man. Everybody knows your name. Where-did-she-go-and-why man. So-lonesome-I-could-die man. Everybody knows your name” (119).

    Any other examples you guys would like to point out?

    Music: Joe on the hunt for Dorcas tells us (or tells the narrator, or tells himself, or tells whoever/whatever), “I dismissed the evil in my thoughts because I wasn’t sure that the sooty music the blind twins were playing wasn’t the cause. It can do that to you, a certain kind of guitar playing. Not like the clarinets, but close” (132).

    Is Joe similar to Alice here, kinda/sorta blaming the music for his emotions, but probably being aware deep down that the music is only bringing to the surface emotions he already has within him?

    How about this passage on 110 where Violet has this thought: “Mama? Is this where you got to and couldn’t do it no more? The place of shade without trees where you know you are not and never again will be loved by anybody who can choose to do it? Where everything is over but the talking?” Do we think Violet actually believes her life to be as difficult as that of her mother’s? Rose Dear, who had to hand over her house and all of her possessions and was forced into homelessness with five kids and no money? Is Violet being obscenely over-dramatic here? And/or naive? Or is there some truth in what she’s thinking?

    One final thing: A passage on 100 reminded me of Beloved and some of Morrison’s other work, how so many people back then had no idea about the fates of their loved ones. Referring to Violet’s father, Morrison writes, “In the meantime he made fabulously dangerous and wonderful returns over the years, although the interims got longer and longer, and while the likelihood that he was still alive grew fainter, hope never did.”

    I really have no point here–it’s just that I can’t imagine an era in which it was common not to have even an idea of the whereabouts of a loved one, much less know whether he/she is alive or dead. Today our friends/family can’t even go to the grocery store without alerting us on Foursquare and Facebook and Twitter.

    For next Tuesday’s discussion, read to the end of the book. And be ready for a final conversation about who the hell the narrator is/narrators are.


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    Justine Tal Goldberg

    David, your observations about this book are lovely and insightful, and I look forward to responding to each and every one. But first, I have got to say (and please don’t judge me for this), I’m having a fair amount of trouble following this book. I’m loving the jazzy rhythms of language but am finding that I get so lost in the style, I cease to comprehend the nuances of plot. Am I alone in this? Am I just not reading carefully/slowly enough? What do you guys think?

    Jose Skinner

    Yeah, I’ve also been distracted from it by readings that offer more plot, or better plots. But Mr. Duhr’s questions have inspired me to persevere… Gimme a coupla days…

    David Duhr

    You know, I probably had similar feelings the first time I read this. If memory serves, I blazed through it in one night and fell in love with the language, but didn’t follow all of the strings. The next day I reread it, paying closer attention to the plot and characters. The next week I reread it again and was totally hooked.

    But this is maybe my fifth reading in the past two years, and I still don’t understand everything …

    Justine Tal Goldberg

    Jose, re: “better plots,” so are you finding the plot lacking in some way? I’m curious … David: I should reread. I will reread. Clearly, this is a book that demands a great deal from its reader. It reminds me of Faulkner actually in the trust that the author puts in the reader and the intuitive leaps that the prose demands. In “Sanctuary,” for example, there’s a moment in which a character’s hair is described as black when we’ve already learned that her hair is blonde. You think and think and think and wonder if Faulkner has made a mistake,… Read more »

    Jose Skinner

    I’m on a plot kick these days is all, and realism over modernism. I picked up a Faulkner the other day and I liked what I read, but still didn’t finish it. I hope I’m not turning into a Dean Koontzer or something…

    David Duhr

    Remember, as writers we can learn (almost?) as much by reading Dean Koontz as we can learn by reading Morrison.



    You know, I found it a bit of an adjustment to get into, too, and for awhile I thought, “There you go, Leah, just being a shallow reader!” But that, I think, is a part of my own torturous journey towards admitting my love for the more plot-driven work for so many years I deemed beneath me, oh! Literary Writer. That said, I wound up really loving the book by the middle and the end, which, as you guys have mentioned, really reminds me of my reaction to Faulkner, and I would add Virginia Woolf. I think in the end… Read more »

    Jose Skinner

    I think it’s odd that Morrison quotes Joe directly and doesn’t use free indirect style instead in that long passage. I mean it IS free indirect, in the sense that it’s the author’s plus the character’s voice; but it’s presented as Joe’s direct thoughts (or dialogue), even though it’s way too “literary” to be just that.

    Justine Tal Goldberg

    Hmmm, does the narrator break into that section? If not, I guess it is true direct but odd in the sense that it’s a departure from what’s come before. I don’t believe we’ve encountered another section that is uninterrupted perspective character.

    Would love your thoughts, please comment.x